Barbara Mikulski Senate
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Bill Hrybyk

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee said April 18 she will seek additional funding for NASA in a spending bill her committee will take up later this week.

In the last in a series of annual addresses before the Maryland Space Business Roudntable here, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she would seek to ensure that NASA’s existing array of science and exploration programs were fully funded in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill.

“Whatever we have on the books, make sure it is adequately funded and adequately ready to go,” she said in a description of her guidelines for the upcoming appropriations bill. She specifically mentioned the James Webb Space Telescope and other space science programs, as well as a “balanced space program” of human and robotic missions and aeronautics.

“We will make sure that we have the resources we need to keep NASA going,” she said. That included, she added, additional programs, like a satellite servicing initiative at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center that Mikulski has helped fund in previous years. “I will do everything I can to find targeted funding for the new opportunities and the new possibilities, like in satellite servicing.”

She also called on Congress to “do no harm” in the appropriations process. “First of all, in the process this year, let us not have another sequester. How about no shutdown?”

Mikulski did not offer specifics about programs and funding levels in a brief interview after her speech, noting that she still had to work out final details about the bill with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the commerce, justice and science appropriations subcommittee. However, she did indicate the bill would likely have a higher topline, or overall spending level, for NASA than in the $19.025 billion in the president’s original request.

“I’m pushing for a higher topline,” she said. “I think that the president and [the Office of Management and Budget] were trying to meet a certain budget mandate, but we’re going to try and exceed that.”

The commerce, justice and science appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to mark up the spending bill April 19, with the full committee to take up the bill April 21. “I bet you that we’re going to go to the floor of the United States Senate within the next two or three weeks,” she said in her speech.

This appropriations bill will be the last the Mikulski will help shepherd through Congress, as she is retiring at the end of the year. She said she would work until “the last hour” of her tenure in the Senate to get a spending bill she supports passed.

Her past efforts to support NASA programs, particularly those based in Maryland, won praise from NASA and industry attendees of the luncheon. “In the 2030s, when American astronauts reach the red planet, her impact will be present with us throughout the entire mission,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, who called Mikulski “America’s space senator.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...